Dec 202010

Most parents planning a summer driving holiday with their pre-schooler or early primary kid will have contemplated (or become dependant on) the ubiquitous back-of-car-seat DVD player. Nothing like a bit of mindless entertainment to keep the kids quiet on a long journey.

Unfortunately, more and more research is demonstrating that too much mindless TV is bad for the young brain. At the same time, many of the best and brightest of our educational psychologists are being lured by the grubby dollar to work for educational software companies.

It’s a win-win if you’re prepared to invest some of your hard-earned in the devices produced by said companies in developing the genius of your offspring. Combine that with the drive to your summer holiday destination and you’re in Christmas nirvana!

The Leapster Explorer is the latest must-have gizmo from the clever folk at LeapPad. Not only is it completely incompatible with all earlier leap-gadgets that have gone before it, (clever move, LeapPad folk, though annoying to those who have invested heavily in the predecessors) but it is also fabulously addictive for the average 4-9 year old – and, bonus, probably good (or at least, not too bad) for the developing brain.

The Explorer comes in pink or green, has a touchscreen display and high-res graphics. (Yep – you spotted it – it’s a junior iPhone, without the phone.)  There are educational activities (disguised as games but by this age kids won’t be fooled), music (exceptionally annoying) and even mini-videos.

There are kid-baiting tie-ins with eBooks and other content starring key Disney and Nickelodeon characters that can be downloaded, from Leapfrog’s Amazon wannabe site – at a price and via a wannabe iTunes-like voucher.

(Though I’m a little uncomfortable about grooming my kids to a life of paid downloadable content, I suspect this bit will be a huge hit.)

The add-on camera and video is a thoughtful addition. From the age of four, kids will learn to be content creators with their very own tools.  (Ah, let us hope they use these early talents for good and not evil!)

There’s web-enabled progress tracking, personalised content – what’s not to like? It’s a little pricey, but filled with clever surprises. The LeapPeople suggest siblings can share, clearly this is a recipe for disaster, but if the budget it tight – good luck with that!

Bottom line: Wire your kids up before they can read


How much : $ 140 for the Leapster, $30 for the camera, additional games $25

PS :  Miss Four found one in her Christmas stocking and has so far taken almost a hundred photos and a good hour of video. Snippets of these offerings so far are quite good – I may have a YouTube hero in the making!!